Monday, November 5, 2012

Happiness Survey

On the eve of this election, let’s play a game.

You are the mayor of Anytown, USA. The US government wants to know how people really feel. To do so, it asks people to take a voluntary, anonymous survey.

This survey would consist of many types of questions like, “Do you enjoy life in the USA?” “Do you feel that your opinion matters?” “Are you given the resources and training you need to be successful?” “Are you able to do what you do best every day?” and so on.

The surveys would be administered at the local level—each mayor would be responsible to give out the surveys and “invite” people to take it—remember, it’s voluntary, and anonymous.

Sounds like a good idea, doesn’t it? After all, how can the government know what to fix if we don’t tell them?

But then things start to turn strange. The governors start to compete to see which state has the highest percentage of citizens take the voluntary survey. Because they want to look good to the federal government, the governors put pressure on the mayors to “strongly encourage” their residents to do the survey.

Although the survey is anonymous, in order to track results each mayor is told how many (but not specifically who) of the people in their town haven’t taken the survey. As mayor, you know of several people who have told you that they don’t believe the survey is truly anonymous, so they don’t want to take it. They point out that because you, as the mayor, know people haven’t taken they survey proves that it’s not truly anonymous.

Finally, the time to take the survey ends. The results are tabulated, and then broken down to the local level. As mayor, you are given the results for your town, and how it compares to the rest of the nation.

And what does the US government then do with the information? It tells the mayors to “make an 'action plan' to fix any issues that their citizens scored low on.”

Does this seem as silly to you as it does to me? So, why did I make this up?

Confession time: this is actually quite a common way corporations handle employee feedback.

The US government is the corporation, the governors are the district or regional managers and the mayors are the department managers.

I’ve been the “mayor” in this scenario for three different companies. I thought it was one of the most ridiculous things I’ve been a part of.

When I raised my concerns about this process, I was told, “It’s your job as a manager to make your employees ‘buy in’ to whatever the company decides.” That would include cutting paid time off, reduced or eliminated raises and higher demands on productivity without an increase in resources.

After all, if the employees aren’t happy, it certainly can’t be the fault of the corporation.

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